Seaforth’s Masonic Lodge has stood tall through two world wars, the American Civil War and the first, formative years of the grand experiment known as Confederation.
It has occupied its brick edifice at the intersection of Main and John through the tenure of every Canadian prime minister, as well as multiple British monarchs and a number of prominent American presidents, including Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
As its occupants, the Seaforth Masons, work towards the 150th anniversary celebrations this May, the Lodge is undergoing an extensive renovation in part to better accommodate the older Freemasons that still walk through its wooden doors for the group’s meetings.
It’s a transformation that has once again attracted the attention of arguably Canada”s definitive architectural historian, as well as his well-used video camera.
“We’re attempting to softly…educate and document these traditions. The Masons have been here since the 1860s – and they haven’t moved from that,” said Chris Cooper, who visited the building on March 12 to shoot a segment for his documentary series focusing on Canada’s built heritage. “It’s really kind of cool that you have somebody here that has seen probably the assassination of Abraham Lincoln and Confederation.”
Cooper, who holds a PhD in architectural history from world renowned Cambridge University, has produced several series focusing on Canadian heritage, in addition to serving as editor of a now digital-only architectural magazine called Edifice.
The segment he is currently developing about Seaforth’s Masonic Lodge will be a “micro-episode” that will be shown throughout the world and online on RedLeafNetwork.com, Cooper said.
It’s expected that the show will afford Seaforth an expanded public profile, with each weekly segment on the RedLeaf website attracting anywhere between 300,000 to four million views, according to Cooper.
The multi-talented historian is no stranger to the area having previously documented Seaforth and Brussels for a segment of his Rediscovering Canada series that aired in 2013.
In terms of the architectural importance of the Lodge, Cooper said he was greatly intrigued by the “minusculely rare” still maintained murals adorning an upper-level room.
“This group of people have been upstairs since it was painted, so it’s not molested, not touched. The rarity of that is massive,” he explained. “I can only literally count on one hand in all Canada (where that has happened).”
The four portrait-sized murals, which depict an almost identical house in the countryside through the seasons, represent a major component of the Lodge’s renovation plan as the room there are in is slated to be moved to the building’s lower-floor. This is to allow easier access for older members to the room, which serves as host to the Masons’ many meetings, according to Lodge leadership.
Barry Hutton, who boasts the lengthy title of worship masterful of Britannia Lodge 170, ancient free and accepted Masons Grand Lodge of Canada in the province of Ontario, said the Seaforth group will trumpet the 150th anniversary of having its building in the town with festivities on May 2.
Among the events, the group will host a gala and dinner that is expected to attract members from across the province, including the leader of the Canadian Masonic Society. There will also be several vignettes performed at the gala.
Hutton stressed that the Masons are a far cry from the shadowy, all-powerful cult demonized by conspiracy theorists. Rather, the organization is a simple men’s social club devoted to improving the well-being of its members and the communities they reside in, he said.
The contributions the Masons make to their respective communities, Hutton noted, are far more “low-key” than their more well-known and colourful counterparts, the Shriners, who manage a network of medical facilities for children across North America.
The two groups, however, are closely aligned, with all members of the Shriners required to be Masons.
“We like to help out in the community but we do it very low key,” Hutton said of the group. “The Masons in North America donate over $2 million US a day to charity. It’s a lot of money that gets out there that very few people know about.”
As an organization, the Masons boast deep roots in Canada, with the country’s first Masonic Lodge established in Annapolis, Nova Scotia back in 1738 – almost 130 years before Confederation.
Although a constant presence in Seaforth since the country’s founding, Cooper said the historical significance of the community’s Lodge and local Masonic Society is hardly standard knowledge for residents.
“The reality is here is an organization that has actually existed here for your parents, your grand-parents, your grand-parents, your great grand-parents and so on and so forth,” he added. “I wonder how many students, even university-aged students and on down, that live in Huron County that are even aware that something like this exists.”